As Government Money Dwindles, Sanofi and University of Texas Team Up on Funding

Published: Jul 10, 2015

As Government Money Dwindles, Sanofi (SAN.PA) and University of Texas Team Up on Funding
July 10, 2015
By Riley McDermid, Breaking News Sr. Editor

French drugmaker Sanofi is teaming up with The University of Texas System to help bankroll research that has otherwise been hampered by recent cuts in government-backed funding, the two announced this week.

Under the terms of the deal, Sanofi will pony up $2.4 million for research at the university system, an amount intended to both stopgap any federal shortages and create new public/private partnerships that could be highly lucrative if the drugs they create are successful at market.

UT said it's seen its private funding leap 30 percent in just the last five years alone.

Sanofi said Wednesday that one of its first targets will be the highly-coveted protein PCSK9, which is involved in how the body regulates so-called “bad” cholesterol.

Yesterday a Japanese study of Sanofi and Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, Inc. ’s cholesterol lowering drug Praluent (alirocumab) has been shown to reduce so-called “bad” cholesterol by 64 percent, the companies said, a sign that naysayers about the drug can now comfortably get behind it. UT was involved in early discoveries that helped shore up research to develop Praulent, a success both parties are hoping they can replicate with further collaboration.

“We hope to duplicate that by identifying opportunities, run them, support them, and bring them to patients as quickly as possible,” Paul Chew, the chief medical officer and head of global medical affairs in North America for Sanofi, told Xconomy in a phone interview. “We’re hoping that we will be able to collaborate within these institutions to find and fund early stage research that could lead to new therapies.”

The money at stake is substantial. The market leader, Pfizer Inc. ’s atorvastatin (Lipitor), has raked in $140 billion in the almost two decades it’s been on the market, while Thomson Reuters forecasts sales for 2019 are $4.414 billion for Praluent and $1.862 billion for Amgen /Astellas Pharma Inc. ’s evolocumab.

Sanofi’s new program also encompasses Brigham and Women's Hospital, Weill Cornell Medical College, Johns Hopkins University, Massachusetts General Hospital, the University of Pennsylvania and Columbia University.

Still, there were some warning bells Thursday, as medical ethicists urged investors and the public alike to think more deeply about what each party in a partnership like this is ultimately getting.

“The kinds of questions that have to be asked, from a public perspective, are how broad is this agreement, and what kinds of things does it govern?” Michael Santoro, professor of business ethics at Rutgers Business School, told the Texas Tribune. “What kinds of things is Sanofi getting for $2.4 million?”

The American Association of University Professors issued a report in April that said many professors or researchers find this new public sector payroll disturbing.

“Some senior faculty members described the shift to commercialization away from basic research as ‘shocking’ and ‘obscene,’” said a portion of that report.

As New Jersey Biotech Booms, Will It Overtake Other States As Prime Location?
A week after Celgene Corporation announced it is officially the mystery buyer of Merck & Co. ’s former 1 million-square-foot R&D site in Summit, N.J., it quickly became our most popular story last week.

The company announced last Wednesday that it is buying the space, ending months of speculation about what Big Pharma company might move into the neighborhood.

The Summit, N.J. site is zoned research/office. The New Jersey site would put operations closer to some of the major biotech and pharmaceutical hubs on the East Coast.

But, by far, the most tempting part of doing business in the state remains New Jersey’s operating tax credit, which allows companies to sell their net operating losses to the New Jersey Treasury. One of the state’s most recognizable biotechs, Celgene, used the program until it became profitable, which was key to it staying in the state, said local officials.

That has BioSpace is wondering if New Jersey is becoming the new face of biotech. What do you think? Can the Garden State compete with other longtime stalwarts like California or Boston?

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